According to Indestructible: The Unforgettable Story of a Marine Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima, Jack Lucas was 13 years old on December 7, 1941, when he decided to go to war against Japan. He wanted to “make the Japanese pay for the attack on Pearl Harbor.” The United States was soon at war with Nazi Germany, but since it had not attacked America, it was the Japanese Jack picked to fight.
Jack’s mother was aware of his resolve to join the Marines but she would not lie and sign admission papers. After he forged her signature, he hugged her goodbye and headed for the recruiting office. Jack would admit there was no real love or respect between him and his stepfather, who assured the recruiting office that Jack was really 17. Jack was accepted as a Marine warrior.
At the top of his class in 1943, Jack easily qualified for heavy machine gun operation. But his next assignment disappointed him. Along with nine others, he was to remain in camp to take the place of senior instructors who were shipping out. This wouldn’t work for Jack. He had joined the Marines “to kill the enemy myself … I was hell bent to go to war.” Ignoring his orders, he went AWOL and jumped the train for California. There, his missing name was added to the roster after he convinced a sergeant a mistake had been made.
Indestructible tells of a cocky bunch of Marines who singled Jack out because of his height, and verbally abused him. When a man dared touch Jack’s hat, Jack exploded with a right to the man’s jaw that knocked him unconscious. Punching out a fellow Marine was dishonorable in Jack’s eyes because Marines became his family. Yet he was “never one to accept abuse.”
Arriving at Oahu, Hawaii, Jack felt he was finally getting closer to deal with the Japanese, “one body count at a time.” He was as feisty as ever. Too much so. He was locked up 17 times for fights while on liberty. He was thrown into the brig for punching out a Marine and messing up his tent quarters. That Marine called him a runt and refused to give him a light. For this incident, Jack was locked up for 45 days where he pounded rocks 12 hours a day, while awaiting court martial.
When released, Jack would wait no longer. He became a stowaway on the USS Deuel heading for the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. On the 29th day at sea, he turned himself in. Although he was an administrative nightmare, eventually he was reclassified as fit for action and assigned to an outfit. At last, he felt he was a real part of the Pacific war operation, “ready to explode at the first opportunity to draw blood.” Jack was now 17.
Artillery shelling followed by heavy aerial bombardment softened up the tunneled out Mount Suribachi. Jack scrambled from a Higgens boat into deep water and struggled toward bloody Red Beach shore. Lifeless and wounded Marines lay everywhere, along with scattered body parts. Ruined machinery blocked the way. Yet Jack and his outfit struggled forward through the powder-like sand of Iwo Jima.
As a team of four they approached a bunker. Flame throwers were firing napalm deep into enemy tunnels. As the Japanese fled out into a trench, Jack’s foursome killed many at point-blank range. It was here when they were so close to the enemy, Jack spotted two live grenades tossed into his trench. Without hesitation, he covered both with his body, shoving them deep into the loose ash as far as possible with his hand and his rifle butt. To Jack’s recollection, only one exploded, but he may not have heard the second one. The blast lifted him into the air and dropped him on his back.
Jack describes the numbness throughout his entire body, the terrible ringing in his ears, the feeling of warm blood oozing from his head, chest, abdomen, and thighs. It ran down his throat. Pieces of wood from his rifle butt were blown into his chest. What little clothing was left was shredded. Because he remained conscious through the entire ordeal, Jack spit out blood in his throat that “cleared the way for life-giving oxygen.”
Needless to say, getting Jack and thousands of other wounded men off Iwo Jima was a miraculous task in itself, but he eventually made it back to the States. For his absolute bravery above and beyond what could ever be required by mere military code, Jack was awarded the Medal of Honor. He considers the medal and his association with the Marines as a brotherhood the highlight of his entire life.
Indestructible is a fascinating story of one hero, Jack Lucas, who would insist that a similar story could be told by the thousands of service men whose voices were stilled forever on the slopes of Suribachi — soldiers who never reached the top — soldiers who were killed as they stepped out of their Higgens crafts and struggled to reach The Red Beach of blood.
I would recommend this story to anyone who likes to learn about the heroes of “the greatest generation” and what they endured to free this world of tyranny. The story is well-written in the first person. I enjoyed the first half of the book leading up to Jack’s encounter with the enemy grenades, more than the second half replete with the honors and opportunities bestowed on him as a result of his Medal of Honor.
As strange as it may seem, although I enjoyed the story and cannot imagine the courage it took to throw his body on two live grenades, I did not like Jack as a person. Yes, he was a genuine hero but numerous times in his dialogue he talks of wanting to “kill Japanese” as if he hated the Japanese as a people when in fact, it was the Japanese leaders and military responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Then too, it seems he recalls with pride the number of times he punched out those who disagreed with him, even punching out a man in a hospital. He seemed determined to paint himself as a real tough guy, afraid of no one, no authority, who made his own decisions in spite of military protocol. He would do things his way to get into the war and “kill Japanese.”
In the second half of the book, he talks about his broken marriage and the number of failures he encountered attempting to get his life back together. He mentions a second close call with death when, as a paratrooper, a tangled chute refused to open properly, landing him in a hospital. Reading Indestructible was a fascinating story, but Jack’s personality left me cold – making for a courageous hero I respect but have no desire to meet.